Dear Neighbour…

Dear New Neighbour Downstairs,

Hullo! My name’s Sadie. Your new neighbour upstairs. Not the one with a beard that puts the rubbish out – that’s Matt. I’m the one that got stuck by her scarf to the gate the other day. I don’t know if you were watching. I hope you weren’t; I could have been choking to death for all you know and you didn’t do anything. Anyway. No matter. I’m alive, for now. (But – N.b. – if you see me struggling at the fence again, chances are something ridiculous is happening and you should come out and help.)

I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself yet, but I’ve been busy with work and unpacking and loosening my woollens from gate posts so I don’t strangulate and whatnot, so I’ve not really had time to remember to be polite enough to pop down.

The times I do remember I should maybe have popped down in an act of basic etiquette are usually when I can feel the bass of your ostentatiously effective surround sound reverberating up my shins. That’s when I think “Ooh. I must pop down and introduce myself to him, so I know WHAT TYPE OF FACE TO CRAFT WITH MY VOODOO CRAFT SET.” (A little joke – I reserve my spells for neighbours who pass wind audibly then laugh about it, which is about the worst thing any human can do, bar waste food and genocide.)

Fake joking aside, you may have noticed the vague aura of my dissatisfaction radiating through the floor? That time-old English means of communicating? Stewing at home in stoic silence?

For instance, you may have perceived me dropping a shoe very loudly the other day – that was a clear hint I needed you to turn it down. You responded intuitively by playing a computer game that sounded like lions mating in space. After that you may have noticed ME RAISING MY VOICE ON THE PHONE A COUPLE OF LEVELS ABOVE MY USUAL VOLUME, INTIMATING THAT I COULD NOT HEAR MYSELF THINK. Then, when you started watching an action film that made my wibbly bits judder, I huffily took myself from the room muttering something very grumpy about amplification just being another way in which men try to appease themselves over their own shortcomings as men, or something. That must have cut you to the quick, had you been able to hear it. I do apologise.

Hey. I know it’s not easy being neighbours; we’ve all got our little foibles. I don’t expect you to alter your life as such, just…turn it down so I don’t have to hear you living it. I’m sure you’d get a fair amount if you were to put your sound equipment up on Ebay. Here’s a possible sales pitch – ‘Speakers so good my new neighbour hates me already.’ They’ll bite your hand off. (And if they don’t, I will.)

I hope you don’t mind me writing by way of a newspaper column. I know it’s not the most conventional way of saying “hullo you noisy tinker, now sshh”. But for now it saves me coming down and actually speaking my mind out of my mouth-hole, which I’m not always great at. You’ll see for yourself in time, when you watch me trying to shoo away Mormons or something. (I will need your help then too. Seriously. Last time I got stuck at the kitchen table between two American brethren and they didn’t even bring corn bread. I thought they had to bring corn bread.)

Anyhoo. Peace. (Seriously. Please?)

Your slightly huffy but ultimately quite friendly neighbour,
Sadie Hasler
Aged 33, 5 months, and 5 days.

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The Lady & The Beard

Women have always had a lot to fret about. In the olden days it was all consternation over how to keep whites white when the stream was muddy, how to prove they weren’t a witch before loonies killed them, or how to fend off amorous Vikings flushed from a successful day’s pillaging.

Now we have a lot more to worry about. Like body hair. What a rigmarole for the modern gal. One day you’re 13, listening to Take That, and getting your mum to confirm that everything’s normal ‘down there’ and developing just like in those You And Your Body books. The next you’re 29, listening to Take That, up to your navel in Boots own hair removal cream and wondering why the instructions never said anything about The Almighty Screaming. In between those two points of course are a thousand misdemeanours along the road to finding what’s right for you. A thousand mis-plucked eyebrows, deodorant burns in armpit nicks, near-death Gillette leg gougings, and various other unmentionable endeavours in the name of being smooth as a scaffolding pipe.

Most women usually fall somewhere amid the following: making sure that their eyebrows don’t startle small children in the street, their armpits don’t give refuge to small nocturnal animals, their leg hair doesn’t get caught in escalators, and their nethers don’t inspire lusty woodcutters to come at them with tools.

It’s a pubic pallavah of varying proportions until you finally decide, definitively, what you can and can’t be bothered with. Some women brightly declare that they don’t care anymore – that they feel comfortable enough in themselves and in the love their partner has for them to just…let it be. Maybe they are suddenly bathed in the glow of revelation while reaching for a blunt soap-caked Venus or a rusty pair of tweezers. Maybe they let their bodies do their thing. Maybe they even grow to love what their bodies do and grow and look like.

I was inspired to write this column by a lady I saw this week. She was buying a big book about make-up techniques along with a little book about the style of Princess Kate. She had long, slender fingers, a pristine purple coat, and tottered on beige heels two sizes too big. Her legs put mine to shame and she was at least in her 70s. She had a stubborn girlish air that railed against time. She was probably very pretty once. But her chin was covered in long silver hairs in what I suppose can only be termed ‘a near-full beard’. I was shocked to see it given her careful attire. I collected myself, and pushed my thoughts to one side. My thoughts being: how could a woman be interested in ‘beauty’ yet not tend to basic facial pruning; why on earth didn’t she sort that out? Ugly thoughts born out of my own shallow prejudices.

Only later did I think, why the hell should she? Why should she feel uncomfortable with her body’s natural course? Why should she waste her twilight years being pointlessly insecure? Why can’t she enjoy make-up and glamorous coats and royal style while sporting a dishevelled goatee?

She may have had the faraway stare of someone who wasn’t really there anymore, she may have had a permanent benign smile of someone who’s slightly mental and just on the dotty edges of everyone else’s ‘sane’, nicely coiffed world, but she looked happy and totally unaware of what was aesthetically expected of her by a society that’s too often told how to look and what to worry about, and I realised I envied her. Her, and her warm little freedom beard.

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The Unbearable Slowness of Weeing

I’ve always been a bit of a slow lass. Not slow in mental functions as such, (although that sometimes too), but slow at getting things done. I always knew I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my dream of running a sandwich bar for example; I had to face facts – I would make my customers late back after their lunch breaks because I spent too long spreading their butter into the corners equally. My arduous arrangement of lettuce would have them on a disciplinary before a week of patronage was out, and if they hung around for a toastie I’d be delivering it to them as a bedtime snack. The next day.

I’ve always taken a bit longer to do things. Ablutions in particular are a curiously slow affair. I’ve seen people whip in and out of the shower in 2 minutes and they haven’t overlooked a single crevice. A quick shower for me is 10 minutes. A normal one is definitely over 15. I genuinely don’t think I can do it any quicker. I have tried, but it results in me dropping soap, accidentally exfoliating my eye, or only shaving one leg. Part of me wants to film myself having a shower next to a big clock with an accompanying step-by-step commentary to share with selected friends to see how I can improve, but I think they’d definitely worry I was developing a rather niche exhibitionism problem.

Shoelaces. Slow. Making sure I have everything I need. Dead slow. Slow to anger, slow to eat (and growing slower fast), slow to see that some people aren’t worth bothering with. Slow to take the plunge, slow to cook. Slow reader, slow realiser, slow adopter of the new. Slow to say goodbye, slow to leave the pub.

But I think mainly – and I’m going to get all deep here – of all my slownesses, weeing is the one that annoys me the most. Man I’m slow. I could enter a cubicle at the same time as another woman (separate cubicles, usually) and I will still be pulling down my pants as she is zipping up and flushing. I sit there, skirt around my knees, wondering what’s wrong with me. She’s back at the table glass in hand while I’m unlocking the door and struggling (slowly) with the weirdy sensor taps that have no instructions or visible outlets.

I wonder what shapes the pace we go through life with. Whether it is quite literally the wiring in our brains, the unique set of impulses throttled down through nerves and chemicals and marionetting us to its own will, our pace reliant upon and prey to the origin of all our cerebral functions – or if it’s something we subconsciously choose. Do we as children start looking out at the world, in puzzling it over, somewhere decide in our souls that we will decide our own approach, our own response. One kid tears around as another counts the woodlice. Is it our choice?

I once broke up with someone who lived at a pace totally at odds with mine. He was fast fast fast and I was slow. Breaking away was like hopping off a souped-up carousel, dizzying and odd – but after readjusting I settled back into the pace I did not know I had abandoned. Everything seemed right again.

Being slow might be annoying sometimes, it might even mean you get less stuff done, (or it could mean you do your things more thoroughly, perhaps even better) but our natural pace is just one of the many things that make us who we are, and we should gently protect it while life bustles us about.

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119 Pens

Pens. Anybody need any pens? I’ve got 119, and that’s after the clear-out. That is also excluding the box in the other room, the ones in a pot at my new flat, and the ones that render me blotchy every day because they’re languishing broken in my handbag.

Some of you might ask if one person ever needs quite so many pens. The answer is of course no, not all at once. Some of you might ask how I came to have so many pens, and I would say “Good question, dear reader.” The truth is, I don’t remember where I got most of them. Some of them are helpful and tell you. Banyan Tree, Bangkok. Ah, yes. I went there once. I obviously availed myself of a complimentary biro. Others are lovely little mysteries. Like the BBC Radio 4 Drama quality roller ball – who on earth did I nick that from? Did I mug The Archers for all their stationery, perhaps while merry on their schnappsy namesake in a country pub once?

It is a shame of our age that we don’t use pens much anymore. I write thousands of words a week now with just the tips of my two index fingers. I write in one homogenised font, not in my own changeable shapes.

I have been very strict with myself. I have thrown away all those nibby squibs of nil nostalgic value that don’t work anymore. So, like, about four. But these pens remind me of things, so I want to keep them.

Like the Letter Net fountain pen (yellow, scratchy, leaky) from the worldwide pen pal club my Dad secretly signed me up to when I was about 13. I remember being very confused to receive a letter about David Hasselhoff and cats from a random German named Sybille Kambeck. I replied thrice very politely about my hobbies before I realised we had no future. A boy named Mustafa met a similar fate when his bad grammar brought me out in hives.
Then there’s the company pen from my first job in London after Uni, when I genuinely worried I might never get on in life without a Louis Vuitton bag. I never got the bag, but I kept the pen, and that was the better decision.

There’s a famous line in T S Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock – a poem I knew I loved even before I came to think I might understand it – about measuring a life out in coffee spoons. Maybe mine has been measured out by my pens – by my trans-global pen theft (I don’t think I paid for any of these little blighters you know). Maybe we diarise our days in the objects we most commonly use. They’re some of the most casually acquired notches of our time, pens. Even one humble biro with a chewed top has its own private memory of an afternoon where I was stressed or distracted enough to bite concentric hexagons instead of doing whatever I was supposed to be doing. And we hardly ever use them to their fullest potential. When was the last time you used one til it dried up before you moved on to the next?

I miss writing at length with a pen. I miss the satisfaction of looping the tails of Ys, the melodious swish of a smooth nib, the bursting of a new ink cartridge. I miss writing to people I like, people I love, I even miss the uncomfortable exchanges with strange Germans foisted upon me by a father who believed, rightly, that correspondence was an art. I wonder what happened to Sybille Kambeck. I wonder if she ever got to meet the Hoff. I wonder if I should write her a letter.

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